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Civil Restitution Program Going Well
AUSTIN, Texas Assistant Chief of Fisheries Enforcement, Kris Bishop, briefed the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Jan. 29 about the progress of the department’s civil restitution program, since the legislature in 1999 implemented a law saying licenses can be denied until fines are taken care of.
On average, $365,000 of Civil Restitution is assessed annually. Collection has averaged $297,000 a year since passage of the enhanced penalty in 1999. It is TPWD’s belief that this program has a two-fold benefit, Bishop said. “Not only are we able to recover funds that benefit the department’s efforts to manage and conserve the natural resources of Texas but we have also raised the awareness of the general public as is evident in the gradual decrease of civil restitution cases filed each year.”
To date, more than $7 million in civil restitution has been assessed, of which more than $3 million has been collected and deposited in Fund 9. The Resource Protection Division also conducts some Civil Restitution assessment, usually involving fish kills, due to pollution or seismic activity. They report that they have collected and deposited more than $700,000 into Fund 9.
Quite often citations issued by game wardens involve the illegal taking of a resource. In 1985, the 69th legislature granted the statutory authority that allows TPWD to assess civil liability to those who unlawfully take, kill, possess or injure the wildlife or aquatic resources of our state. They also granted the Parks & Wildlife Commission the authority to set rules that establish guidelines for determining the monetary value of those resources. The monetary value of each wildlife species is obtained by considering eight scoring criteria: Recreation, Aesthetic, Educational value, Scarcity, Environmental tolerance, Economics, Recruitment, Ecological role. Value is added for Endangered/Threatened species and trophy game animals.
Some examples of Texas wildlife values include:
- White-tailed deer: $163 female, $525.50 male, $3,025.50 for a 150 B&C score Trophy White-tailed deer
- Mourning Dove: $15.50
- Whooping Crane: $7,100.50 + $1,000 Endangered list
Restitution is a civil process and is separate from and in addition to any criminal penalty assessed by the criminal court. Historically, civil restitution was treated more as a gentleman’s debt: letters were sent requesting payment. If not paid, collection could only be sought through a civil lawsuit brought by the Attorney General’s office, which in most cases was not cost-effective.
A review of the program’s effectiveness revealed a low collection rate and prompted the legislature to pass a statute in 1999 that allows the department to refuse to issue a license/permit/tag if the applicant has been convicted of illegally taking a resource, is liable to the state for the value of the resource, and has failed to fully pay the amount due after the department has issued notice.
A series of five letters are sent to the violator notifying them of their liability.
They are sent at monthly intervals and even include a 20 percent discount for timely payment.
The final letter advises them they have been placed on license suspension and contains a warning that if found participating in an activity requiring that license, they will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor- punishable by a fine of $500-$4,000/confinement in jail not to exceed one year/or both.
For more information about the civil restitution program, call (512) 389-4846.
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